I was an eager participant in Indiana’s hard-fought Republican Senate primary earlier this year. The Indiana GOP had not witnessed a Senate primary scrap like this in modern memory, definitely not during my ten years as a Hoosier. The unexpected retirement of the Democrat incumbent, Evan Bayh, created an obvious opening for a pick-up in what could hardly be more favorable circumstances for the Republican Party. This upped the ante for anyone who had a shot at the May 4 nomination and fostered what, at times, was a brutally competitive climate among the 5 candidates vying for the title.
It is certainly no secret, so I won’t bother attempting coyness now about it: I was an ardent supporter of State Senator (and now Congressional candidate for Indiana’s 3rd District), Marlin Stutzman. Marlin campaigned hard and we came in a strong second, but at the end of the day, there is only one number that counts in any election. Former U.S. Senator Dan Coats won a clear victory that night and became our nominee.
I have alluded to the considerable contention that arose during the Senate campaign and have also admitted that I can’t claim merely to have sat on the sidelines. I jousted (in mostly friendly, but nonetheless dead earnest fashion) in social media venues, such as Twitter and Facebook, with Coats supporters. I cast barbs at past Coats votes and passed along poll numbers and news quotes that I deemed detrimental to the Coats cause.
After May 4, however, the game was over for me. I, along with most Stutzman supporters I know, led by Marlin himself, immediately closed ranks and pledged support for Dan Coats. The former Senator had not been my first choice, but it had never been personal. As a longtime political observer, I had been familiar with Dan Coats and his biography for years and had always admired him as a dedicated Republican and Christian.
While crisscrossing the state to different events for Marlin, I had also had a chance to observe the other four Senate candidates from a fairly close vantage point. Dan Coats was not simply congenial in a glad-handed fashion; he was always ready with a warm handshake and a friendly smile, even for those of us who had clearly pledged support to another candidate. He is the consummate kindly Midwestern gentleman with whom one may substantively disagree, but cannot harbor dislike.
Yet, I retained inner doubts. It is unlike me to dissemble, so not to put too fine a point on it, but my greatest fear could be stated thus: “I know Dan Coats is a fine man, but does he really grasp the tenor of the times?” I questioned that someone who had spent the previous decade earning a good living inside the sequestered confines of Washington, DC could be returning to public service with the requisite keen grasp of the desperation of the hour. Does he realize the threat to the American way of life that the Obama administration poses? Does he comprehend the complicity of many Republicans in our current desperate fiscal dilemma? Most importantly, I wondered, does he possess the stamina to take on the established Washington mentality of “going along to get along”, rather than turning back the clock on spendthrift DC patterns? In short, does Dan Coats really “get it”, on a visceral level?
Thanks to the Coats’ campaign’s David Keller, I was informed early last week (about 12 hours prior to the fact!) that Dan Coats would be at Howard County Republican Headquarters for lunch and a meet & greet. I had been hoping for just such an opportunity. About 40 of us showed up for pizza and Coke and some face time with the Senator.
Senator Coats made the rounds and shook every hand in the room, lingering a few moments with those who wanted to exchange small talk. Then he got down to business. He gave a brief biographical sketch and explained his reasons for entering the Senate race, explaining that he felt optimistic about his chances, but that he is running hard for victory.
Mine was the second question he took. I knew exactly what I wanted to ask and how I wanted to phrase it. I had rehearsed it for some time.
“Senator, I would like you to comment on the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. I would also like to hear your thoughts on the general trend of the American judiciary in the direction of progressivism and the effects that has had on the country.”
In his answer to my question, Dan Coats first explained to the group what the Senate’s advise-and-consent role is, in response to the nominees a President sends forward. He then explained that following the bitter Bork and Thomas nominations, once the Republicans were out of power, their strategy had been to graciously accede to President Clinton’s judicial choices, since the power to appoint judges was a Presidential prerogative. The way this was supposed to work, then, was that after the Republicans gained the White House back in 1996 (!), the Democrats would return the favor by not waging vicious confirmation battles over GOP nominees.
Of course, this wasn’t the way things fell out, either in terms of a 1996 White House victory for the GOP or the ensuing treatment of Republican judicial nominees, which Senator Coats readily admitted. I don’t recall his exact phraseology, but I believe he referred to this thinking as something along the lines of a “fairly bad miscalculation.” I will always vividly recall what he uttered next, however:
“One of the greatest mistakes of my years in public life was voting to confirm Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court. The leftward trajectory of the country’s judiciary constitutes a terrible danger and it must be stopped. To do that, we will have to play the game the way they do. As a result, I would not vote to confirm Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court and I will not vote for a judicial nominee who does not embrace an originalist interpretation of the Constitution.”
I have long felt that in a moment like this, you learn a lot about a man’s character, perhaps far more than he may be aware he is revealing. Based on the commentary from those present that day, in conjunction with the typical level of historical awareness in a given audience, I would venture that 80-90% of the room would never have known that Dan Coats voted to confirm Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court in 1993. Yet, Dan Coats willingly volunteered the information and even cast mild aspersions on his own former vote, while firmly and unequivocally detailing a principled and informed stance on the damage that progressivism is wreaking on the country.
Senator Coats took a number of other questions on Social Security (“it is insolvent and has to be fixed”), school choice (“the more of it, the better for everyone”), the fiscal state of the country (“It’s horrible and we are mortgaging our children’s and grandchildren’s future, which must stop”), among other topics. In his answers, Dan Coats revealed not only a focused grasp of the issues our country faces, but a firm resolve to re-enter Congress in order to implement solutions, not simply mark time. Incidentally, my friend and former Stutzman campaign compatriot, who blogs at www.lookoutkokomo.com, queried Senator Coats about who he would be inclined to support for Senate Majority Leader if we win back the Senate. Coats categorically indicated openness to either Jim DeMint or Tom Coburn.
I left Republican Headquarters that day, convinced that indeed, Dan Coats “gets it.” He has turned his back on a high six figure lobbying salary to return to public life at a fraction of his yearly salary over the last decade to wage a fight for the next six years for the restoration of freedom and fiscal responsibility. Indiana will do well to elect a seasoned elder statesman rather than falling for the sleazy narrative of a “former sheriff” who wants to clean house in the tradition of Hoosier justice. The lamentable, but cold-eyed fact is that Brad Ellsworth has sold his home state down the river by bowing and scraping to Nancy Pelosi’s dictates for the last 4 years, culminating in a crucial vote for passage of the Obama/Pelosi/Reid health care monstrosity. The sacrifice Dan Coats is making in returning to the campaign trail stands in rather stark contrast to the betrayal with which his opponent has repaid his state for its trust.
I am proud to support Dan Coats for United States Senate and Brad Ellsworth must and will go down to resounding defeat on November 2.